21 dic. 2010

Spanish Lessons

Spanish seems easy: there are a lot of cognates with English because of its Latinate vocabulary; Americans have a lot of exposure to the language, typically. It is easy to pronounce, with only 5 vowels sounds.

Yet Spanish syntax and morphology are minefields. The multiple uses of the reflexive (only one of which is a true reflexive); the potential confusion between two past tenses; clitic pronouns and where to put them; the passive voice; the baroque system relative pronouns; gender; the problem of combining a verb with an infinitive and what to put between (a preposition, the correct one, or none at all); the subjunctive.

The lexicon also presents numerous problems. False cognates and derivations; Spanglish words invented by the student.

If you only kind of sort of half-way master grammatical points as you go along, you'll get to the upper-division level and write a paper with a mistake in virtually every other sentence, using made-up words or "calque" translations from English, putting verbs randomly in the subjunctive when there is no reason to, yet not using the subjunctive a single time when it's called for; leaving many verbs simply unconjugated, in the infinitive form, confusing sentir and sentar, creer and crear. Not to mention using the preterite as default for the past-tense even in very obvious cases, using singular verbs with plural subjects (and vice-versa), making masculine nouns feminine and vice-versa, refusing to make the adjective agree with the noun in gender and number, misusing of ser and estar. Not to mention missing accent marks and tildes and writing occure for ocurre.

Some students, though, manage to write with very few of these mistakes, and even manage a convincing authorial voice in Spanish at the discursive level. They actually sound like they are writing in Spanish rather than in some odd pidgin.